Traveling Green – Behavior Might Trump Destination

I sleep in a hotel at least two nights each week. To get to my regular hotel, I drive two hours plus, and roughly once each month I travel to more distant national and international destinations.

My room, two nights per week

Despite this carbon-intensive lifestyle, I make efforts to minimize my impact. Sadly, I’m bucking the trend, according to two Virginia Tech students whose study, “Guests’ green habits slip during hotel stays”, notes that “consumers who engage in environmentally friendly behavior at home behave differently when staying at a hotel.”

Aside from driving a five-year-old Toyota Prius, I have developed numerous hotel habits that help minimize my impact. A brief search on “green traveling” revealed no obvious online resource to point to — most green travel tips are focused not on the traveler, but on the destinations. Here are a few tips for greening up your travel, whether your destination is green or not. I make a practice of each of these, and none of them makes traveling any more difficult.

  • Fully utilize hotel bars of soap – if you have an open one at home, take it with you (snack-sized zip-lock bags are helpful). If you start a hotel bar, bring it home and finish it there. I estimate that I’ve saved over 1,000 small bars of soap in the last five years, and that includes buying very few soap bars for my home.
  • Fully utilize all shampoo bottles you open and other sample-sized products. Again, baggies help, and all the savings described above apply. If you think soap and shampoo from hotels aren’t a problem, note that Harrah’s in Vegas recently donated $100,000 for soap recycling.
  • Shut lights off when you’re not in the room. Use only the lights you need when you are there.
  • Turn the heat off when you’re not in the room in winter; in summer, turn off the air conditioning. The automatic shut-off, if your room has one, usually isn’t activated until you’ve left the room for a long period. Plus, you may find that given the hotel’s ambient indoor temperature, you may not need nearly as much heat or A/C as you think.
  • Hang your towels and leave linens according to the instructions for NOT having them cleaned. If the hotel staff takes them anyway, complain. I have, and it works.
  • Turn the television off if you’re not watching it — especially if you’re leaving your room. Ask for the TV to be shut off in the breakfast area if nobody’s watching it. Silence is not only golden, but lack of TV encourages conversation among hotel guests — rather than watching CNN repeat news you’ve already seen, why not meet your next client?
  • Keep curtains shut when you’re not in the room and even when you’re in it, if you don’t mind (additional insulation in hot or cold climates).
  • Take short showers. Turn the water off to lather, turn it on to rinse (I do this at home; why not in a hotel?).
  • Recycle — many hotels now have recycling bins in the rooms. Why not use them? If they don’t recycle, and I have room in my luggage, I will take recyclable paper or plastic home. It’s not that heavy, and the exercise is good. If you have a spare empty bottle of water from the trade-show floor, put it in your carry-on and fill it after security at the airport…. more savings and conservation.
  • Walk where you are able — restaurants, meetings, gym. It’s good for you and the world. Note that many hotels in suburban settings are not enormously tall: if it’s not a high-rise, take the stairs. Again, a great way to exercise when you have little time for the gym, and better for the world.
  • Drink tap-water, not bottled water. The water in many cities outperforms most bottled waters when it comes to purity and nutrients. Why not take advantage of water you’ve paid for with your tax dollars, even if the hotel gives you a free bottle to drink from?
  • Toilet — some families have ways of conserving water in this area… if you do, don’t forget to do so in your hotel room.

Finally, find a hotel which offers smaller rooms: in other words, less space to heat, cool and clean. I stay at the Aloft hotels on a regular basis — the small rooms are well-designed for comfort and convenience, and the chain offers great workout facilities and other amenities. In addition, the shower has a soap/shampoo dispenser, so you don’t open new packages at every stay.

The small and well designed Aloft bathroom

Call me a nut for thinking about all these things whenever I travel, but given over 100 nights per year in a hotel, I know that I’m making a difference.

If you have more suggestions to add to a traveler’s “green behaviors,” please comment. Help us all give Melissa Baker and Eric Davis different results when they conduct another survey on guests’ green habits in the hospitality industry.

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